Discovery of Fire
The largest technological breakthrough in prehistory was the discovery of fire. The discovery of the technology to make and sustain fire.
Until not long ago mainstream archeology thought fire making was discovered in current day China some 300.000 to 500.000 years ago. But more recent discoveries in the last few decades have suggested that the discovery of fire technology was made far before that time period.
Findings in the Transvaal, South Africa, show that Hominids were making fire far before previously thought. The Homo Erectus, a predecessor to the Homo Sapien that lived aproximately 1,5 million to 30.000 years ago, has been thought possible to have known how to use fire. But the ability to make fire was almost certainly not known by the Homo Erectus.
The discovery of fire making has almost certainly been made by Homo Sapiens as fire making objects such as fire stone and cave drawings suggest. Other hominids such as Homo Erectus probably knew about the existence of fire, they would have probably experimented with fire when they came across local bonfires that could have triggered their interest.
Ancient folklore of many civilizations tell the story of the importance of the discovery of fire. Stories of hero’s and magical beasts that master the use of fire. In Greek mythology the hero Prometheus steals the fire from the gods and brings it to the humans. In reality humans most likely made the discovery of fire making from spontaneous eruptions of earthgas, lightning strikes and vulcanic eruptions which were comon in east mid africa where Homo Sapiens and many other hominids lived in prehistoric times. In an ancient site in Israel called Gesher Benot Ya’aqov burned wood and seeds were discovered dating back to 790.000 B.C.
The invention of fire making using tools such as creating sparks with fire stone and using strew and the rubbing of a wooden stick, creating friction and fire is expected to have been invented later somewhere around 400.000 years ago.
In cultural, economical, social and technological terms fire making was a revolution that changed prehistoric life forever. As sites throughout Europe indicate that the the habitual use of fire seemed to have really gotten started around 400.000 years ago, the discovery of fire 800.000 years ago made a long 400.000 year leap in changing prehistoric life forever.
Fire brought our ancient ancestors light and warmth and with it the possibility to live in colder and darker areas. Also safety increased drastically as predators and other animals could be made to stay away from the fire where humans would live. The technique improved over time and sparked many other technologies. Think of the implications on cooking and the hardening of stone speer points using fire. Before uneatable seeds and plants could now been cooked in fire. In short fire was a game changer for prehistoric society and improved their lives substantially.
Fire also had major implications on human groups as it brought people closely together around fires, triggering communication and thought. It could also have triggered the imagination and the need to control other things in the environment.
Fire makers must have gotten a special status in prehistoric societies. Seen as people with enormous amounts of knowledge and powers by those who did not understand it. They could literally mean the death or survival of a prehistoric society.
Fire also was the first technology that shifted the day/night cycle for humans. As having light in the dark opened the possibility to stay awake and investigate the world at night. New unnatural behavior could develop, coming loose of daily routines.
Fire must have had a deep psychological impact on prehistoric humans. A source of safety, warmth, social bonding, warm food, light and inspiration. Just as cooking, a warm fire and light can make us still feel safe and comfort it must have had an even deeper effect on humans at the time.